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RiffTrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party! Review

Summer's here and the time is right for riffing on the shorts.
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Working together on Rifftrax Live: MST3K Reunion Show must have been as much fun for for the cast as it was for audiences, as most of the gang reunited for RiffTrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party! which is getting a second showing on Tuesday, June 20 at 7:30 p.m. (local time). Over the course of the night, they riffed on seven shorts to varying degrees of success. The RiffTrax trio (Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) opened the night with a short directed at kids starring a bizarre animal mascot named Ricky Raccoon, who helps a young boy

2017 Oscar-nominated Animated Short Films Review

And the nominees are...
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North America owned the Animation Short Film category this year with three from the United States and two from Canada, though one was a co-production with the United Kingdom. The art is where the shorts all stand out. Unfortunately, a couple falter because of the story. Blind Vaysha (director Theodore Ushev, Canada, 8 min) - A young girl is born in a village with one eye that sees the future and one that sees the past. The narrator offers viewers the opportunity to see as Vaysha, but offers no resolution to her story. The short has an interesting look as

2017 Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films Review

The rundown on the five nominees for the documentary short subject category.
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Through the wars of the past and the present to the wars that we battle in our own bodies, this year’s Academy Award nominees in the Documentary Short Film category all tackle remarkable subject matter that reflect the power and courage of the human spirit. They show that human connection and caring for one another is one of the greatest gifts we can give or receive. All these films center on the theme of hope. 4.1 Miles (director Daphne Matziraki, USA, 26 minutes) This documentary follows Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a captain in the Greek Coast Guard who is caught in the

2016 Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films Review

The run down on the five nominees for the documentary short subject category.
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This year the Oscar-nominated short documentary films all address uncomfortable subject matter that most people don’t want to talk about. While each film tackles a different subject, themes of death, the forgotten, and the outsider are present in each one of these works. But these short subject documentaries are not all doom and gloom; hope, perseverance, and the triumph of the human will make their appearances as well. They nominees are: Body Team 12: . Directed by David Darg and produced by David Darg and Bryn Mooser, this film from Liberia is the shortest of all of the nominees in

2016 Oscar-nominated Animated Short Films Review: An Excellent Group

Short films, big emotional punch.
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If the Oscars have any real meaning (and let’s be honest, they mostly don’t outside of very rich, very famous people congratulating themselves), it's that they bring to the masses films that we would otherwise overlook. The Oscars have long since brought to me lists of great films I might have never heard were they not given a very large spotlight. The awards ceremony also means these films will garner more money than they might normally which in turn means more award-caliber films will get made. This is especially true when it comes to non-mainstream genres like documentaries and short

2016 Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Films Review

All five films feature characters in situations that challenge them and their assumptions.
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The five Academy Award-nominees for this year's Live Action Short Film originated from Europe, the United States, and one production that involved Palestine. Two of the stories are lighthearted and three are serious, but all present characters in situations that challenge them and their assumptions. In alphabetical order, they are: Ave Maria: The film opens in the West Bank, Palestine, on Friday at 5:35 pm. A Jewish couple and his mother are driving home before sundown. They get into a car accident in Arab territory outside a Sisters of Mercy nunnery. They allow the man to use their phone but

Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces DVD Review: Bugs and the Gang's Tunes are Looney Fun

A fun-filled musical romp through classic cartoons.
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Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces, a recent release from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, is a fun-filled musical romp through classic cartoons. In fact, while watching the eighteen shorts on the DVD, viewers may come to realize that their knowledge of classical and American popular music may have originated with Bugs Bunny and his looney friends. Many of these cartoons have been previously released on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections, so this compilation is of interest to the more casual collector, or folks who just want to focus on the music. Fan-favorite characters like Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, and Porky Pig

2015 Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films Review:

The run down on the five nominees for the documentary short subject category.
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This year's nominated short-subject documentaries include two films from Poland, two films from the United States, and one film from Mexico. Although they all focus on different subject matter, all five focus on aspects of the human journey. The other tie that binds the nominees together is that these are the first Academy Award-nominations for all the filmmakers and producers in this category. The first film out of Poland is "Joanna," which is the story of a young mother dying from cancer. As she faces her illness, she also writes a blog and letters to her young son Johnny in

2015 Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Films Review

An intriguing collection of characters attempting to connect with others.
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The Academy Award-nominees for this year's Live Action Short Film originated from Europe and Asia. They feature an intriguing collection of characters who are attempting to connect with others in a variety of ways. In alphabetical order, they are: "Aya": The title character is waiting at the airport when she does a driver a favor and holds a sign for an arriving passenger, a classical-music researcher who is heading to Jerusalem to serve on a competiton jury. Rather than explain what's going on, she agrees to be his driver. This short delivers a lot of suspense as Aya's motivation is

2015 Oscar-nominated Animated Short Films Review: Feast is Far and Away the Best of the Five

If these are five of the best animated shorts, then it would appear to be a poor year for animated shorts.
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Animation would seem to be particular conducive to the short film format, as cartoons have been done in short bursts of a handful of minutes since they were invented. It’s a chance to fool around with aesthetics and cool visual effects and so on. Here’s a look at all five of the finalists for the Best Animated Short Film category. "A Single Life": This is only a couple minutes long, and the conceit of it is pretty clever. However, it is much more amusing in concept than in execution. It’s slight, but it is so short that doesn’t hurt it

Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory, Volume 3 DVD Review: The Lost Stooges

The Warner Archive brings us six rare pre-Code shorts featuring The Three Stooges, including a previously thought-to-be-lost short rediscovered in 2013.
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The early filmic legacy of The Three Stooges - or the comedy troupe of Howard, Fine, and Howard, as they were sometimes known - is quite the bittersweet affair when viewed and compared to the later output the iconic team has since gone down in history for. Beginning via several different incarnations as stooges for vaudevillian Ted Healy (wherein the word "stooge" was used to define someone who played an audience member until called up onto stage), the antics of the leader and his outrageous flunkies became prime moving picture material fodder when representatives of an infant film industry started

The Vitaphone Comedy Collection, Volume Two - Shemp Howard (1933-1937) DVD Review: Thank You, Warner Archive!

For those of us who have always been and always will be Team Shemp.
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After leaving the original vaudeville version of a comedy company that would later come to be known to the world as The Three Stooges, Shemp Howard embarked on a solo career in comedy. It was a venture he did not have to enter into lightly, either - as Shemp possessed an inherent ability to make one laugh, be it by his oh-so-distinguishable looks (his manager once promoted him as the ugliest man in Hollywood) or his knack for slapstick humor. Unlike his former (and later, future) colleagues, he didn't necessarily need to be a second banana or serve as an

The 2014 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films Review: Great Talent and Creativity on Display

The five Animated Short Film nominees are well worth seeking out.
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The Oscar® Nominated Short Films is the perfect opportunity for general theater-goers to see the Live Action, Animation and Documentary nominees. Presented by ShortsHD with Magnolia Pictures, the shorts are programmed as three separate events in over 250 theaters across the United States, Canada and Europe with more than 400 theaters slated to screen the films during its theatrical release. The winners will be announced at the 86th Academy Awards® ceremony on Sunday, March 2, 2014 from the following five nominees in the Best Animated Short Film category: “Feral” (Directors Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden, USA/Non-dialogue). Synopsis: A wild boy

Laurel and Hardy in Dirty Work (1933)

"The whole thing looks screwy to me!" - Oliver
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Dirty Work is the fifth and final short the boys released in 1933, a month before their classic feature Sons of the Desert, and it is a funny one. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are working as chimney sweeps and get work at the home of Professor Noodle, a scientist developing a formula to reverse the aging process, but that is just a set-up for the final joke that closes out the film. This film could have been set in any house with a chimney because the main focus of the story, and the laughs, are the antics between the

Pierre Etaix: Criterion Collection DVD Review: Affordable Pricelessness

The Criterion Collection brings us a wonderful set from a fine French comic you probably never heard of.
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For many of the "average" citizens living within the confines of the continental United States of America, the concept of viewing French comedy is on-par with sitting around in coffee shops drinking itsy bitsy cups of coffee whilst talking about art and folk music: that which is perceived by the ignorant, uneducated masses who have been raised under the impression that NASCAR and Coors Light make the world go 'round to be artsy-fartsy-hippie-liberal-faggoty stuff. Of course, what they fail to realize is that - as Morrissey once crooned - America is not the world. And both NASCAR and Coors Light

Pierre Etaix Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Bringing Etaix's World to Life

Pierre Etaix's charming films are finally released properly.
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“The defining characteristic of comic cinema,” says French comic, clown and filmmaker Pierre Etaix, “is that it begins with a situation everyone’s familiar with…If your initial situation is authentic, the sky’s the limit.” Thanks to the good people at Criterion Collection, aficionados and novices of Etaix’s evacuated and unkempt cosmos of comedy can experience his works in their full glory. The Pierre Etaix Blu-ray set includes all of his films: five features and three shorts. As critic David Cairns explains in the included booklet, “Etaix had signed his name to a distribution deal that had gone sour, and the bulk

Mickey Mouse Makes His Triumphant Return in "Croissant de Triomphe"

Viva la Mickey Mouse!
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If you are like me, today's announcement by Disney CEO Robert Iger that 19 Mickey Mouse cartoons were being produced by Walt Disney Television Animation for the Disney Channel and caused more trepidation than delight. All too often over the years, beloved animated characters, including Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry to name three, have been revisited with lackluster results that reveal those responsible didn't understand what made the characters succeed in the first place. Not even legendary animators are immune from this, as I'll be the first to declare I don't care for non-daffy Daffy Duck, and that

Tom and Jerry: Pint-Sized Pals DVD Review: With a Little Help from Their Little Friends

A mixed-bag of classic Tom and Jerry shorts and less interesting recent creations, this collection serves as a solid, child-friendly introduction to the famous cat-and-mouse duo.
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By virtue of their respective species, Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse are sworn enemies. Tom chases Jerry, and Jerry outwits Tom; sometimes, it's the other way around, as Jerry ends up on the receiving end of Tom's revenge. They give each other hell and, on the rare occasion, team up to thwart a common foe. It's a simple conceit, and one that has the potential to run very dry, very quickly. Yet over the course of eighteen years and more than one hundred cartoons, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were able to do the seemingly impossible: keep the Tom and

2013 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts Review: From Mediocrity to Absolute Perfection

Need some help for your Oscar pool?
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I have seen a lot of short films. Many of them were mediocre at best, steeped in their creator's overflowing pretension. Others were genuine and heartfelt, and touched on the very core of human experience. This year's class of Academy Award nominees had a little of everything. Asad Asad is the story of a young Somalian named Asad with conflicting interests. On one side are his friends - the older boys in the village - who have joined up with pirates and spend their days raiding yachts (you remember all the news reports). On the other side is the old

2013 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts Review: Davids vs. Goliaths

Animation can do anything quite literally.
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Animated short films are often relegated to film festivals, and as a result go almost unnoticed. Unfortunately, the only time the general public cares about them is during Oscar season, and even then, most people are too wrapped up in the nominees for Best Picture and acting. Thankfully for those who enjoy them, ShortsHD is continuing their tradition of programs featuring the Oscar-nominated shorts (Live Action, Animation, and Documentary), which will be in theaters across the U.S., Canada, and Europe beginning February 1st. The 2013 Oscar-nominated animated shorts are: Maggie Simpson In "The Longest Daycare" The Simpsons has been on

The Flying House Project DVD Review: A Travesty of Animated Proportions

Animator Bill Plympton's ill-conceived "revitalization" of a Winsor McCay classic is a slap in the face to McCay's legacy.
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Early 20th-century artist and cartoonist Winsor McCay is not exactly a household name, at least in comparison to other stalwarts of early animation like Walt Disney (though this fall’s Google Doodle honoring McCay's pioneering comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland went a long way towards familiarizing him with modern audiences). But there is no denying his groundbreaking influence in the development of the animated genre. In fact, McCay, whose work predated Disney's by more than a decade, practically invented the concept of animated film, spending thousands of hours producing, directing, and drawing every frame of his cartoons by hand, usually

Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2 Review: A Very Entertaining Roster

A showcase for technological innovations and the talents of up-and-coming filmmakers.
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Originating as a division of Lucasfilm in 1979, Pixar Animation Studios has gone onto the become one of the industry's most successful movie studios with its 13 feature-length films earning numerous awards and over $7 billion in worldwide box office receipts. Aside from the features, short films have been an integral part of the company's history. Over the years, they have been used to showcase technological innovations and the talents of up-and-coming filmmakers. Picking up where Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 1 left off, Volume 2 presents 12 films that premiered between 2007 and 2012. The disc opens with "Your
Anyone who has always been a fan of the immortal slapstick comedy The Three Stooges brought us over the course of several decades and was around to remember the glorious days of home video in the '80s and '90s will no doubt recollect the various VHS releases we used to get in the stores (to say nothing of LaserDisc and Beta in the early days). They consisted of three shorts per cassette (rarely totaling over 45-minutes) and the classics seemed to be chosen at random. When DVD came about, we were treated to digital releases which contained more titles per

The Complete Jean Vigo Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Career in Four Films

What's essential for some isn't always for others.
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The Criterion Collection honors filmmaker Jean Vigo by presenting the four titles from his very brief career, cut short due to his untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of 29. Author Michael Temple of the biography "Jean Vigo" offers commentary on each film. À propos de Nice (1930, 23 min) is a silent film, expect for a score created by Marc Perrone in 2001, presenting an intriguing look at the seaside town. At first, it feels like someone is just running loose with a camera, learning how to work it on the fly and filming whatever comes his way,

Tom and Jerry: Around the World DVD Review: A Bad Trip

Yet another "best of" set that fails to deliver.
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In all the world of home media, there is perhaps nothing as dreaded as the proverbial "best of" compilation — especially when it comes to cartoons. Instead of just releasing television shows or theatrical shorts in their original, unedited chronological order, some distributors insist on tossing a group of items together onto a single disc and calling it good. The latest assemblage of animation to hit the shelves of video stores near and far is something called Tom and Jerry: Around the World, and brings us nearly three hours of hijinks from the classic cat and mouse pairing. Unfortunately, this

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Essential Collection of Avant-Garde Treasures

Criterion goes for broke in this thorough and fascinating collection of 24 films from the experimental artist.
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The Films There isn’t much experimental film represented within the Criterion Collection library, but when the good folks there do decide to highlight an avant-garde filmmaker, they go for broke. Following up 2010’s sterling three-disc Blu-ray set featuring the films of Stan Brakhage, Criterion offers up A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, a varied collection of 24 films Frampton made from 1966 to 1979. This is probably an even more audacious release than the Brakhage collection — Frampton’s films often aren’t as immediate or visually breathtaking as the hand-painted, hand-scratched kaleidoscopes of color seen in a number of Brakhage works. They can

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: Films in Competition, and Films by Phil Solomon

A night of unexpected endings.
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Films in Competition Honestly, I wasn't terribly thrilled about attending this selection of competition films, namely because of Soft Palate. If you'll recall, I reviewed a piece from opening night titled Shadow Cuts, and I was less than impressed with it. Soft Palate is by the same filmmaker, and from the same “Deconstructing Disney” series of shorts. I expected it to be repetitious and pointless, but I was wrong. Soft Palate is a far superior piece: it is more restrained, it builds tension to a climax, and lets the audience back down softly. I was very excited to see Im

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: Poetic Injustice and The Strawberry Tree

The historic 50th festival continues with a strong collection of shorts and a moving pictorial.
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Poetic Injustice - Short Films from the Arab World The “Poetic Injustice” program of short films from the Arab world didn't have the energy of the Student Film Showcase, or the charm of Out Night, but the films were just as good. Individually, most were a little weak, but together they created a very strong pastiche of a war-shaken culture. Particularly moving were Mona Hatoum's Measures of Distance and Bouchra Kalili's Mapping Journey #7 (the festival program lists this as Mapping Journey #5, but #7 was screened). Measures of Distance is a collection of narrated letters to Hatoum from her

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: Student Film Showcase and Out Night

Day 2 features filmmakers of the past and the present.
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Student Film Showcase There's something special about the raw creative talent of student filmmakers. Experimental festivals tend to draw artists making art for the sake of art. Students, on the other hand, just make what they think is cool. Their films, while not always technically superior or groundbreaking, are always true to their visions. The entire student film showcase was wonderful. With entries from The University of Michigan, the College for Creative Studies, Eastern Michigan University, even Washtenaw and Oakland Community Colleges. Genres ranged from animation to documentary, drama, comedy, and everything in between. Every film was stellar, but one

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: Opening Night

The 50th AAFF opens with a short film program focused on technical experimentation
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Tuesday night marked the beginning of a historic week. An aged George Manupelli stood on stage at the Michigan Theater and joked with a tightly packed audience as he opened the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival. Manupelli, a professor at The University of Michigan at the time, founded the AAFF in 1962. Since then, it has become the nation's longest-running independent and experimental film festival. The festival runs through Sunday April 1st, and I'll be there all week to bring you my reactions to the cutting edge of avant-garde filmmaking. Once everyone got over their opening-night jitters, the festival began

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